Constipation and Irregular Bowel Movements in Healthy Women

Constipation is a symptom and not a disease. It can be a symptom of various diseases, not only those affecting the gastrointestinal tract. However, constipation can sometimes occur in a person with no underlying disease. Even more frustrating for some, particularly females, constipation can occur in otherwise healthy women who are health conscious and strive hard to maintain their fitness. It appears that constipation is not due to a single factor but rather several lifestyle and hormonal factors that makes it more frequent in females.

Irregularity of Bowel Habit

In the strict sense of the word, constipation is defined as a difficulty or straining on passing stool with less than 3 bowel movements per week. Sometimes the bowel movements are irregular but do not fit the description of constipation. This means that there is no straining and the movements are daily followed by a few days of no movements. The irregularity of bowel movement can still be considered as constipation although it is variable.

Causes of Constipation

Constipation, when not due to an underlying disease, may be caused by :

  • Low water intake
  • Low fiber intake
  • Eating very small portions
  • Poor bowel habit
  • Overuse of laxatives
These are some of the more common predisposing factors but constipation will not occur in every instance. In fact, in many instances of constipation the cause is unknown. This has time and again brought up the possibility of a functional disturbance in normal intestinal motility meaning that there is a slowness to bowel motility which is not due to any disease. The other factor is excessive contraction of the muscles that control the anal sphincter which once again is not due to any pathological factor although there could be a psychosomatic component.

Why are women more constipated than men?

More women tend to suffer with constipation but this does not mean that it is worse than constipation in men. The exact cause for this difference in constipation among the genders has never been conclusively identified and in all likelihood it is multifactorial. That means that there is no single factor but most likely several different factors are contributing to constipation. It is possibly a combination of psychological, social, lifestyle and hormonal factors.
Women are more likely to be conscious about their body image, particularly in a world where media associates beauty with body shape. This can contribute to changes in eating habits – dieting and even starvation at times. It is not surprising that eating disorders like anorexia nervosa is more prevalent among females although this disorder has other psychosocial components. The use of dietary supplements may also be contributing factor as constipation could be a side effect.
The social aspects may also revolve around embarrassment with using toilet facilities where men may not be as conscious. This can lead to restraining one’s self when there is urging to defecate with gradual deconditioning. It may be further compounded by factors such as fear or abuse which is not only seen in females.
Hormonal factors may be a component to constipation and this is more obvious with pregnancy. Read more on pregnancy constipation. It could also possibly explain constipation particularly at certain times in the menstrual cycle.
Iron-deficiency anemia is more common in women, particularly females in the reproductive years. The use of iron supplements are known to cause constipation and this can be one contributing factor. Another possible cause associated with the overuse of laxatives. This leads to a condition commonly referred to as lazy bowel syndrome. Overall though, constipation is one of the more common side effects seen with the use of many drugs.

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